How are the Sunday post-sermon silences going for you? What are you noticing so far? Do you tense up and wait for the minutes to pass? Do anxious questions start to run through your mind? (Such as: Am I doing this right? What am I supposed to feel/think/do right now? Are my kids too loud? Am I supposed to pray? Am I supposed to somehow hear God's voice? What on earth are visitors thinking???) Do you feel a bit distracted, even annoyed, by the many sounds that punctuate the silence?
All of that is very, very normal.
I wanted to write this week to reassure you that you cannot do silence wrong. Our world is noisy and full of distractions, and silence — even a not-so-quiet "silence" like ours — is just one small way of turning down the noise, resting from words, and retreating from the many urgent things that clamor for our attention. Silence is something we practice, not something we master. We may discover in the silence that we are eager for distraction, or quick to anger, or prone to worry. We may discover how very tired we are. These discoveries needn't alarm us; they are simply things to notice and name and release to God in prayer so that we can rest in the relative quiet.
A while back, I listened to an episode of the OnBeing podcast interviewing an acoustic ecologist (who knew there was such a thing?!) named Gordon Hempton about the world's quietest places; listen here. It was FASCINATING. One thing Hempton said was that true silence is an experience of presence — not an absence of sound, but an absence of noise. Silence includes the myriad sounds of the things that are present, things we can only hear when we pause to listen.
As we entered our silent time on Sunday, I remembered that interview. I noticed what our community's "silence" sounds like. It sounds like little feet slapping against linoleum, young voices asking questions, late-winter coughs, papers rustling, coffee lids snapping open and shut, even toilets flushing. It sounds like presence: the presence of all of us in the Randolph gym, the presence of God in our midst faithfully and invisibly forming us as his people.
Henri Nouwen writes this about practicing silence:
"At first silence might only frighten us. In silence we start hearing voices of darkness: our jealousy and anger, our resentment and desire for revenge, our lust and greed, and our pain over losses, abuses, and rejections. These voices are often noisy and boisterous. They may even deafen us. Our most spontaneous reaction is to run away from them and return to our entertainment.
But if we have the discipline to stay put and not let these dark voices intimidate us, they will gradually lose their strength and recede into the background, creating space for the softer, gentler voices of the light.
These voices speak of peace, kindness, gentleness, goodness, joy, hope, forgiveness, and most of all, love. They might at first seem small and insignificant, and we may have a hard time trusting them. However, they are very persistent and they will be stronger if we keep listening. They come from a very deep place and from very far. They have been speaking to us since before we were born, and they reveal to us that there is no darkness in the One who sent us into the world, only light. They are part of God’s voice calling us from all eternity: 'My beloved child, my joy.'"
And so on Sunday, we press on with this wild Lenten experiment: FIVE MINUTES of communal silence. My prayer for us is that we would be able to relax into those minutes. That we would hear and receive all the sounds of that silence, not as interruptions, not as noise, but as welcome reminders of the shared life that is present among us. And that in that presence, we would hear God's voice calling us forward.
In other news:
- Please plan to stay for the parish meeting on Sunday! We've got lots of important stuff to share.
- "Life with God" begins on April 15. This course is for anyone with questions, doubts, disillusionment, or a hunger to go deeper. I am SO excited for this! Read more and sign up.
- Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, April 2. Read all our service times/locations/details on the website and join with us as we journey toward the cross.